The Change is Everything
Tai Soon Burgess & Company
Under a gonfalon of cherry blossoms, the Japanese Embassy housed a quintet of dance pieces, four by the innovative Japanese choreographer Michio Ito, and one by the DC-based Dana Tai Soon Burgess. It was less than a month ago that the trees swathing the District were bare and fingerlike. But a palette of pinks that the late Estee Lauder would have studied now brings to mind the truth that change is in everything, and that change, its infinity, is everything. It certainly exists in the timeframe of modern dance.
Reprising his performance in “Pizzicattie,” an Ito staple set to a snippet of cartoon-friendly music by Delibes, Burgess acclimated himself to the more intimate venue of the Japanese Embassy’s salon room with grace and affection. Last year, Burgess danced Ito’s jaunty solo like a shadow boxer: the only lighting is a spot placed a few feet in front of him, which traces a large shady impression against the back wall. He played to the rafters of the Lincoln Theatre, and cast more than just his indelible outline.
In the salon, however, “Pizzicattie” became a lesson in the creation of a lesson in self reflection; Burgess sparred with himself, but with more focus and intimacy. The stage being tiny meant he had a smaller shadow to play against and a greater effect of symmetry to exact. He darted his arms forward, making crossing patterns in the air, all while hunched over and keeping his feet firmly moored in place. His wrists and fingers alternated from sharp and focused to curled and rolling. And he swiped his arms concentrically around, like he was sketching snow angels without the snow.
Next was “Ave Maria,” interpreted lovingly, if a tad stiffly, by the radiant Miyako Nitadori. She evoked Mother Earth more than she did the Madonna. Dressed subtly in silky, shimmery blue that rippled and flowed with her slender frame like a stream bubbling with life, Nitadori bent down and scooped her arms at the floor deliberately, then raised them with palms out, as if she were making an offering to the heavens for payment or blessing.
Perhaps she was a bit too careful in her elucidation of Ito’s delicate dialectic between nature and religion, between faith and hope, between sorrow and despair. “Ave Maria” acquired an overwhelmingly plaintive tone that emphasized the minor keyed changes that make Schubert’s opus sound like weeping—the elevating major chords, by comparison, were less articulated, and felt like the heavy sighs one uses to reason amid cries. Nitadori sometimes blurred the lines, which suggested she’d yet to choose which moods to invest herself in completely.
A brief solo called “Tone Poem I,” danced by Leonardo Giron Torres, was a coiling little work designed to carve shapes with, and within, the body. Ito’s steps provided Torres plenty of opportunities to personify what the choreographer called “humanity’s struggle and final acceptance of the forces of nature.” Torres tore into it, plying himself into S-shapes, his torso leaned forward, his back twisted slightly and his head upturned to the side. It felt rather more like a jostling among, than a reconciliation between, the natural forces intended by Ito.
Bookending this swift dance was “Tone Poem II,” which raised a rabble of questions about, yes, humanity, and still managed to successfully wrap itself comfortably in a mantle of ambivalence.
Or was it ambiguity? The dancer was Connie Lin Fink, but there could very easily have been a male in the role, the movements are ambisextrous and are less about the body than ideas. Authority and Societal Structure are the work’s raisons d’être and d’état, but so much is being said, notably the aggregate of human existence (as well as its hybrid forms and variations). Fink found the deceptive and seductive divisions, forming Orlando-esque man-woman parallels.
A good deal of strength is featured in the choreography, accentuated in the angular elbows and rigid shoulders. But a layer of liquid, limpid softness pervades the piece, as well. That one represents man and the other, women, is not the point. Nor are we to guess which is which. Instead, the warbly separation is the point of Ito’s “Tone Poem II.” Men have it in them to be maternal; woman are girders of strength, both internal and physical. Dance is growing, I believe, ever more egalitarian in mining this notion that Ito tapped into as far back as 1928 (just a few years after women were legally allowed to vote as citizens). To be convinced, consider the work’s final image: Fink lunged slowly, with one arm flexed and the other pushing straight out. It could have been Zeus, it could have been Diana.
Finally, Burgess provided a personal work titled “Dariush.” Also performed by Nitadori, it was a shapely, intrepid dance that chugged and slithered with startling nimbleness. She whipped around, splayed her legs in the air while balancing on her hand, and zigged across the room like a dervish.
Burgess constructed a network of spirals and cuts that Nitadori executed vibrantly. Determined as a javelin, she melted from a hieroglyph-like deity to a raw tribal dancer in a matter of a few steps. It was a gripping finale to a series of meditations that provided more than enough argument for Japan’s involvement in the idioms of modern dance, for Michio Ito’s pioneering efforts, and for the future of dance in general. Burgess is not so much passing the torch, he’s lighting his own.